The interpretation of doctrine is good, but the thing which is essential is life, and thereafter those measures of experience which are proper to the degree of life. In like manner, there is the study of the symbolism which is outside doctrine but gives evidence of its inward sense; herein, as I believe, there are the keys of many sanctuaries, or at least of many gates leading to the holy places; but again it is a certain quality of life--and this only--which sheds light upon symbolism, or by which there is an entrance effected beyond the threshold or artificial and corporate part of secret knowledge and much more therefore into the Holy of Holies. It is in this sense that it is said in the old Scriptures: "He is not the God of the dead but of the living."
As regards the keys and the secrets, it is necessary also that we should distinguish between life and its records. The latter remain as examples, as traces, as evidences, and no one should presume to affirm that they are not of high value. It is, however, after their
own manner, and although the bodies of the dead may be embalmed, though they may be laid under all consecrations in the places of rest, and though there is a certain very true and very high manner in which we should look for their glorious resurrection, they remain dead bodies until the Word shall pass above them, crying: "Let these bones live."
It is especially over the place and importance of certain literatures which contain a hidden meaning, and over certain unmanifested confraternities which communicate mysteries other than political in their complexion, that the memorials of the past sometimes prove to be as lavender laid among linen--fragrant, as it may perhaps be, but dead as the past which has buried them. So long, for example, as our great, authorised scholarship--holding, though it does, all warrants of textual research--has recourse only to pre-Christian Celtic records for an explanation of the Graal and its literature, so long it will have nothing to give us but the dry bones of things antecedent in semi-savage folk-lore, and not the essence which is alive. Again, while other experts in research seek among the trade guilds of the Middle Ages for the sources of that which is termed Masonry, they will find nothing that will communicate to them either life or the life of life. Of the latter it should be added that scholarship is not in search, and at its sudden manifestation the old students might be perplexed, and that certainly. I am writing, however, for those who in literature and in secret association would look indifferently for some signs of that quest which they are themselves pursuing--I mean, the Divine Quest. To these I can say plainly that out of the mere things of genealogy there is nothing that can rise again. It is only under high light and guidance that the gift of interpretation, acknowledging all antecedents which have been demonstrated in the historical order, can relegate them to their proper sphere, and can say at need to others, as they have said long since to themselves:
[paragraph continues] "Seek not the living among the dead; this has risen; it is not here."
I have bracketed for the moment the external history of the Holy Graal with that of Freemasonry, because although the analogy between them is of one kind only it is an analogy of great importance. As a time came when the old Celtic folk-tales were taken over in a Christian and indeed in a mystic interest, as it is only subsequently to this acquisition that the literature of the Holy Graal can be said properly to exist, so also came that hour when the mystery--such as it was--of the old building guild was assumed by another mystery, as a consequence of which it was re-expressed with a different intention, and it is thus, and so only, that, as a shadow of things beyond it, there came into being the association which we understand as symbolical Masonry. So far as we can regard it under the aspect of a succeeding or co-incident witness, the epoch of Kabalism was prolonged by the scholiasts of the Zohar, until that period when the next witness was beginning to emerge. After this manner I return to my initial statement that the gift of interpretation is good, but that which is essential is life. It is only the spirit of life which can account, in whatever form it was manifested, for the assumption either of the romance-literature or the particular craft. Without it we have indeed interpretations, as we have also hypotheses of origin, but they are devoid of true roots. As a species of extra-illustration in the first case, there have been various hypotheses put forward which are neither countenanced by the records of the past nor characterised by a gift of understanding; while in the second case we have had simply the romance of archæology or that alternative gift which fills gaps in history by arbitrary suppositions masqued thinly in the guise of fact. Official authorities may be sometimes short of sight, as they are, outside their horizon, but these unaccredited intermediaries have brought their subjects
into something approaching disdain, though a sense of justice inclines me to add that creators of wild hypothesis, with all their distracted material, sometimes make shots in the dark which come nearer to the true goal than the more sober skill which aims only in one direction, but at what happens to be a false object.
The historical side of Masonry has at this day its expositors and students who are characterised by the same patient and untiring spirit which supports other branches of research. They have done valuable work in the past and again will do so in the future, but at present all zeal is held in suspension by the exhaustion of materials--I speak here of the things which are or would be of living and high importance, not of those which are subsidiary or accidental. These too serve their purpose, but they have little or no office in the larger issues; they keep green the spirit of inquiry, which takes into its field the things that signify little and so keeps its hands on the plough. It is better for that spirit to investigate at need the memorials of local lodges than to perish of enforced inanition. It is excusable also, and in a sense it is even good, to exaggerate in one's mind the importance of such tasks, to make much of the little till the great comes in our way, and then to make more of that. But some things--and these vital--which exceed the sphere understood as that of research, pass out of sight in this manner, because, excepting for very gifted, very keen--may I say?--illuminated minds, a dry stick in the hand, though it has no probability of blooming like Aaron's rod, is for some practical purposes more convenient than a live sapling at the top of an inaccessible hill. This is rather the position of those things out of sight which I have at the moment mentioned; the lesser memorials and their aspects tend to keep them where they are--in remote and unnoticed distances. It is not my design to impeach the historical sense--to which all exaltations and crowns!--but there is a dual difficulty in the path of
the perfect term, for the heart of imagination--and those orders--is inhibited by this sense, while imagination, in the excess of its enthusiasm, takes the heart out of history and sets in its place I know not what spirit of fantasy. Between these gulfs on either side of the prudent way, to be an historian is hard.
For myself--if I may be permitted to say so--I present the first consideration of the Holy Graal from a mystic standpoint, which, so far as I am aware, is founded on the requisite knowledge of every existing text. It is such knowledge or its result that enables me to take the via prudentiæ which I have mentioned, and to find that, accepting most statements made by official scholarship with any show of evidence, all the important points remain in my hands unaffected. In exactly the same way we can afford--and that gladly--to let the Masonic authorities prosecute their search for still earlier records of the building guilds, while in the absence of fresh materials we can sympathise with their sorrow and aspiration. If things much more archaic than have been so far found should in fine reward their vigilance, it will be all honour to their industry, but it will be also small concern of ours. Let us make a ceremonial obeisance before anything of this kind which may yet transpire, as we do--and also gladly--before the records of Mary's Chapel. I know beforehand the best that can be said about those which are possibly to come, as I know of those which are among us. They will be, as these others are, excellent and valuable within their own degree, but they will not signify beyond it, and they will not serve any purpose which I can claim to cherish in common with those to whom my appeal is made herein. The Elohim may have formed Adam of the dust of the earth, but it is useless to question that dust concerning man who was created male and female, as the sign of life and its perpetuity. It is useless equally to question the old craft guild concerning symbolical Masonry, since it was not by a natural development
that the one was transformed into the other; the seeds of the transformation were brought from very far away, or, to express it more correctly, the craft, as we have it, is not an example of growth after the ordinary kind but of an exceedingly curious grafting. The ground of contention is not that things of handicraft could never have developed by possibility into allegory and symbolism, but that they could not, as the result of that process, have produced the synthesis and summary of all past initiation which we find in the symbolical degrees. Now, it is at the point of grafting, or taking over, and this because of the results which I have just specified, that we, as transcendentalists or mystics, become concerned--and then only--in Masonry.
For the better illustration of my purpose let me now make a short distinction concerning three classes: (1) There are those who have a love for the minima of instituted mystery; who, if they are carefully sifted, would be found to attach some importance to the possession in common with B and C of certain titles, signs and passwords which are unknown to X and Y; (2) there are those who believe, and this in all honesty, that morality is enhanced when expressed, let us say, in parables; when materialised by analogical representation; when decorated by a ceremonial pageant; (3) there are, in fine, those who are looking for the real things, among whom we ask to be inscribed--at least as the lovers of truth, if we cannot with the same boldness demand to be classed among those who love God. This lesser--or is it an equivalent?--nomenclature we require on the faith that our certain criteria enable us at least to know in what directions, and under what circumstances, it is useless to go in search of real things.
It will be agreed that the first class does not call for our serious attention; they are children, with full licence to take all joy in their play. The second class is entitled to a measure of our respect, for they are at
least on the side of the natural goodness, and they recognise in their own mode that it is not exactly in a position to stand alone. At the same time they mistake a means for an end, and they do not know where to turn for the only efficacious consecrations; so that these also signify only in the lesser degree. I have indicated already that it is to the third class that all my thesis is addressed; its members are in a position to appreciate the historical aspects at their proper value, giving to this natural Cæsar all that belongs to Cæsar, yet confessing to some great reservations, which are not less than the things that concern God.
Speaking therefore in the interests of this class, and in terms which they will understand, there is a sharp alternative as follows: Masonry is either consanguineous by the root-meaning of its symbols and legends with schools of real experience; either it shows forth the one thing about which we have been in labour from the beginning, or it returns in the last resource into the category of the Worshipful Company of Vintners, of Cardmakers, of Fishmongers, and so forth. These are admirable institutions, and to be free of them, which is not easy, is no less than a civic distinction. So also are the friendly societies, in their way, excellent, including that Order of Buffaloes which, perhaps because it is late in its series, is termed antediluvian; but if we are incorporated by these it is for much the same reason that we may be members of a Ratepayers' Association, namely, for benefit and protection in common. These are good reasons, but it is not on account of eternal life that they move us in a given direction.
Eternal Life--initiates, companions and brethren of all the sodalities!--I know well that from the mere reference there will follow the irresistible question: What is there in Masonry, or in any of the allied Orders, which can justify us in suggesting that they might or could be taken up in conjunction with a quest after eternal life? Now, the most pertinent questions are those
which have replied to themselves already in the mind of the speaker, and, in this case, the persons who would ask might answer: Masonry is obviously the remanent of a trade guild, which once had its trade secrets and covenanted those whom it received to divulge nothing in respect of its mystery to any who were outside the particular craft of building. They would not conclude at this point, but we may intervene for a moment with an observation on our own part. Assume that, so far as it has proceeded, this is a correct answer, and what then follows? It is not now a building guild; it has no longer any trade secrets; there is perhaps no class of society which would be more utterly discounselled by the suggestion that it should design edifices, or should even dig foundations and lay bricks. To this extent therefore, as the inheritors of a building guild, the Order is apparently stultified. It has as little part in its antecedents and precursors as had the Christ of the fourth gospel in the coming Prince of this world. The proper answer of symbolical Freemasonry as to the operative art might well be: In me it hath not anything.
Those even who are acquainted merely with the rituals of craft Masonry--and they may be numerous enough outside the ranks of the brotherhood--will here intervene and say, in continuation of that answer which I have so far given in part: That is true, or at least in a certain sense; but the old craft guild became symbolised, and its instruments, and ritual procedure, were taken over--since, you emphasise the term--by the genius of allegory, so that things which were originally physical were exalted into the moral order, and thus they remain till to-day, as the rites, teachings and documents prove indubitably. This is estimable and convincing in its way; it so happens, however, that an appeal of the kind is going to prove too much; and yet it is by such a clear issue that we shall reach one term of our subject.